The Traitor's Daughter

A Reckless Bargain by Elizabeth Powell
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-20551-0
Elizabeth Powell is a welcome addition to the ranks of Regency authors. Her second novel takes an old favorite plot - the rakeís redemption - and provides an enjoyable romance between two unlikely lovers - our above mentioned rake and a scholarly widow.

Kit Mallory was the daughter of a peer, but her fatherís reputation meant that she was not readily accepted by society during her single season eight years ago. Her father found her a husband, a wealthy Indian merchant who took his prize off to Calcutta where he mostly ignored his young wife in favor of his sporting pursuits. These pursuits ultimately led to his death at the hands of a tiger. Kit returned to England. On the trip, she befriended the Dowager Duchess of Wexcombe.

The duchessís family is not happy with the friendship. They are convinced that Kit has designs on her graceís fortune. So the current duke, her grandson, enlists his cousin, the rakish Marquess of Marquess of Bainbridge, to seduce the widow, thus demonstrating her true character.

Nicholas Darcy is a prototypical rake, one who has arrived at the point where his dissipations have become something of a bore. He undertakes his cousinís mission, both because of the challenge it entails but also because he is fond of his aunt and doesnít want her to fall under the spell of an adventuress

The campaign to seduce Kit takes place when she accompanies her friend to the family seat. The duchess wants Kitís presence because she knows her grandson is going to try to force her to retire to the dower house and give up her active life. As the stubborn duchess and the equally stubborn duke arrive at an impasse, Nicholas makes a startling suggestion: if Kit will consent to be his mistress, he will use his good offices to work out a compromise which will make both parties happy. Kit, unexpectedly attracted to the handsome marquess and worried about her friendís future happiness, accepts the reckless bargain.

The key to a successful ďreformed rakeĒ plot is a heroine who is compelling enough to induce the hero to give up his wicked ways. Powell succeeds in creating such a heroine. Kit spent her time in India learning the languages and immersing herself in the culture. She has become a scholar of considerable ability. She is also exotically lovely, although she does not appreciate her own attractiveness. While Nicholas sets out to seduce her in the most calculating fashion, he soon finds himself unexpectedly attracted to this unusual woman.

There are of course the requisite barriers to the happy ending: Kitís determination not to marry again, the difference in their social status, the disapproval of the family (except, of course, the dowager duchess), and Kitís discovery of Nicholasís original perfidy.

Powell creates not only an interesting hero and heroine, but also a fine cast of secondary characters. Particularly appealing is the dowager duchess who, after forty years of an unhappy marriage, is finally spreading her wings and enjoying life.

Powell has the conventions of the genre down pat and has a good feel for the historical setting and the social conventions of the era. All in all, A Reckless Bargain is a most enjoyable Regency romance.

--Jean Mason

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